Texas Campgrounds Expect 10%-15% Upturn
High gas prices crimped travel plans for Steven Zenczak and John Hutchens, but the longtime friends didn't want to skip vacation altogether.
Instead, the two single dads packed up the RV and loaded the kids, bikes, scooters and Jet Skis for the seven-mile journey from Hutchens' home in Euless, Texas, to The Vineyards Campground on Grapevine Lake.
And they are hardly alone. People who live anywhere from a few miles to a couple hours away are flooding campgrounds this summer in pursuit of wallet-friendly "staycations,” according to The Dallas Morning News.
Most arrive in RVs, but some come with reservations for cabins or tent campsites. Many are booking extended stays.
"Normally we would take the RV to the Grand Canyon, Disney World or the beach," Hutchens said. "But gas, food and other goods have gone up so much, it doesn't make good sense."
Not long ago, the two men spent about $400 to drive the gas-guzzling RV to a reunion in East Texas.
"Imagine how much it would cost us to take it to Disney," Zenczak said. "We have to stick close to home."
The result of the staycationing trend has been a windfall for campground operators, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
Initial reports indicate that many campgrounds will see an increase in business of 10% to 15% from last year, Schaeffer said.
He cited a recent survey of 600 RV owners that found about 50% were staying closer to home because of higher fuel costs.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recorded its highest monthly revenue in history during July, in part because of fees collected for day use as well as overnight camping, officials said. The state park system took in about $4.5 million last month, compared with about $3.7 million from July 2007.
"We definitely feel that high gas prices have brought us new clientele," said Mike Spradling, manager of Cedar Hill State Park, Dallas County's only state park. "People who own RVs want to use them.
"In the past, they would go on excursion to see something new and different," he said. "But this year they are realizing they can drive 15 or 20 miles and have a similar experience here because we have the water, trails and beautiful scenery."
Campgrounds such as Cedar Hill State Park – one of the largest and most popular in Texas – and The Vineyards in Grapevine offer the ideal situation for those who want to stay close to home: being close to water and outdoor activities and close enough to visit area attractions such as Six Flags Over Texas and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, according to industry officials.
"People work hard all year long, and they want to go on vacation," said Schaeffer. "They are willing to spend less and compromise on how far they will go, but they still want to go somewhere."
Although some hotels and resorts are marketing to locals this summer, campgrounds could emerge as the bigger beneficiaries because of the outdoor experience that differentiates vacation from routine daily life, officials said. Campgrounds that offer rental cabins are especially popular among vacationers who don't own an RV but want an experience that is different from a hotel.